Felt Dir. Jason Banker

[Amplify Releasing; 2015]

Styles: drama
Others: Marwencol, Irreversible, Toad Road, Ms. 45

Do our traumas define us, or is it how we respond to them? Is there even a “right” way to deal with such a traumatic event? These questions are at the heart of Jason Banker’s Felt, a beautiful film about the ugly realities of life and sexual trauma. It’s easy to quote statistics about sexual violence, or speak in the abstract about the prolonged damage it inflicts on its victims, but much harder when looking at a single person caught in the wake of such an event and struggling to cope. Is there a point where the healing process turns toxic, tainting all interactions and proving that sexual trauma is not just a one-time event but instead a lifetime sentence? And is there a measure for how far we go in reacting to these events where it stops being a mechanism for dealing and becomes something much darker? Felt doesn’t provide too many answers but it does provoke a lot of questions and thought around them.

Amy (Amy Everson) is an artist in San Francisco who has clearly suffered some never spoken-of sexual trauma in her past. Constantly surrounded by reminders of her past, she sublimates her waking nightmare into her art, usually creating alter-egos and felt body suits complete with grotesque genitalia. When she meets a good guy (Kentucky Audler) and starts to let her guard down, but she questions whether she can ever truly trust a person and how far will she go if she finds herself being hurt again.

Felt was conceived and written by director Jason Banker and star Amy Everson, based on Everson’s experiences and art. It’s a completely singular piece of film that contains fragments of previous films and genres but never fully adheres to any of them. There’s the rape revenge subgenre mixed in, the “mumblecore”-esque dialogue of its cast, the art-as-healing-balm of many a prestige drama. But because Felt doesn’t fit into any of these perfectly, and due to Everson’s unique voice coupled with Banker’s gorgeous cinematography, it is a very dangerous film. This is a good thing. The fact that violence and darkness borders the work makes it stirring — it always feels like something is about to go horribly wrong. It’s a tension that never feels false, instead akin to the wariness that Amy feels around people. And when something finally goes wrong, the audience is left questioning the nature of trauma and its place in our lives.

I won’t reveal too much; even though the film isn’t a plot-heavy vehicle, it does still have surprising moments that shouldn’t be spoiled. But know that the film will make audiences squirm intentionally; just as Amy makes her friends squirm by being awkward and confrontational due to hating all the asshole men with whom they make her hang out. The film finds Amy donning different masks and suits, but it’s the filmmakers who do an incredible job of putting the audience under the skin of the lead character. Amy’s art is weird, possibly juvenile, and definitely provocative, much like the film in which it’s featured. But that art is captivating to behold as she uses it to transform herself and escape into another world in an attempt to reclaim that which was stolen from her.

Felt is a great work that is only occasionally plagued by the meandering nature of its improvised dialogue, but it mostly shines throughout. It’s stirringly confrontational as it explores what victims must face in a world dominated by their offenders. Banker’s film is disturbing, unique, and sure to make many uncomfortable. We, as a society, are far better off for having it in our world.

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